Peru has reinstituted the free distribution of emergency contraception (EC) in the country’s public health facilities. Although EC had previously been accessible in the public health system, the Peruvian Constitutional Court ruled on October 22, 2009 that clinics run by the Ministry of Health (MOH) clinics were banned from distributing EC for free because the MOH had not clearly demonstrated that EC was not an abortifacient. Abortion in Peru is currently illegal except in cases where the life or health of the woman is threatened, as established by a consultation with two physicians.
However, Oscar Ugarte Ubilluz, the Peruvian Ministry of Health (MOH), demonstrated his commitment to the sexual and reproductive rights of women by passing Ministerial Resolution Nº 167-2010/MINSA, which once again categorizes EC as a contraceptive method, thereby allowing Peruvian public health facilities to distribute the pill to women for free. Mr. Ugarte refuted the Court’s belief about EC, citing the World Health Organization’s Emergency Contraception Factsheet, which explains, “Levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) are not effective once the process of implantation has begun, and will not cause abortion.” Peruvian Ministry of Health Oscar Ugarte Ubilluz has said, “It is verified by the World Health Organization (WHO), through numerous studies, that the [EC] pill does not have abortive or harmful effects for the health.”
The International Women’s Health Coalition would like to congratulate Mr. Ugarte for demonstrating his commitment to the sexual and reproductive rights of women by passing Ministerial Resolution Nº 167-2010/MINSA, which once again categorizes EC as a contraceptive method, thereby allowing Peruvian public health facilities to distribute the pill to women for free.
The free distribution of EC is a necessary measure to ensure that all Peruvian women –not just the rich– have access to EC and the ability to control their fertility. As Mr. Ugarte explained, “With this legislation we recognize the reproductive and sexual rights of the women of Peru, above all those of scarce economic resources.”
Recognizing that it may take several months for the MOH to restock the supplies of EC in all public health facilities, the Peruvian Ministry of Health has decided to launch a public awareness campaign on the use of the Yuzpe method, until EC will be fully available. The Yuzpe method consists of taking four birth control pills within 72 hours of intercourse, followed by another four pills twelve hours later. As oral contraception continues to be free and available through public pharmacies in Peru, this option is always accessible.
Our partner PROMSEX has also been actively promoting the Yuzpe method this year, both by launching a public awareness campaign to inform Peruvian women about its use and by advocating public officials for their support of the Yuzpe method.
While IWHC acknowledges the progress that was made through the recent legislation that once again allows public health facilities in Peru to provide EC, we urge the Peruvian Ministry of Health to take their commitment to the sexual and reproductive rights of Peruvian women one step further by adopting a national protocol for therapeutic abortion. While therapeutic abortion is legal in Peru, few women have access to this service, partially due to the lack of a national protocol with guidelines for abortion procedures. Last year, a coalition of feminist organizations led by IWHC partner PROMSEX presented a draft-protocol for the provision of legal abortion services to the Minister of Health. We urge Mr. Ugarte to sign this protocol.